Route 1 in College Park Needs to be Pedestrian Oriented
The letter below was written on August 21, 2012 as a result of the Maryland State Highway Administration's decision to build a fence down Route 1 in College Park. This decision was made after several students were killed crossing Route 1 due to collisions with cars. The board and some members went to College Park and reviewed the area for possible recommendations that did not include a fence. We sent this letter to the Mayor of College Park and the President of the University of Maryland to express our concerns.
Dear College Park, Maryland:
As proponents of safe and livable communities, we were saddened to hear of the recent death of two students along Route 1 in College Park. We agree that physical environment of the corridor must change in order to prevent this type of incident from occurring in the future; however, as design professionals with extensive experience, we believe that the proposed solution to install a fence in the median will do more harm than good. Below, we offer an alternative solution that will ensure pedestrian safety and increase the vibrancy of the corridor.
In the interest of the public, and as a local chapter of a national organization, the Congress for New Urbanism (CNU), we feel compelled to weigh in on proposed design solutions for this corridor. CNU’s focus is to raise awareness of the benefits of walkable, mixed-use neighborhood development, sustainable communities, and healthier living conditions. Our mission is guided by the Charter of the New Urbanism. The Washington D.C. area chapter of CNU has existed for more than a decade, and includes among its members leading design and urban planning professionals from around the region.
For the Route 1 Corridor from Hartwick Road to Knox Road, we recommend a comprehensive solution to slow traffic and direct pedestrians, thereby creating a safer environment for all users of this space. Our recommendations do not include a fence in the median. A fence would be a quick fix that does not address underlying design issues.
The physical form and design of public spaces – including streets and sidewalks – inform users of how they should behave and interact with them. Rather than signaling to motorists that they are entering a pedestrian-oriented area, installing a fence in the median sends the message that interactions with pedestrians are not to be expected; the illusion of safety actually encourages drivers to be less aware of their surroundings and pay less attention to pedestrians. In fact, in the absence of a sensitive design context, it is probable that a fence would create a boundary to jaywalking pedestrians, effectively trapping them on the road with no option but to walk in traffic or to attempt to scale the fence.
Our alternative is to use design to fundamentally change how this corridor is perceived. Currently there is no distinct marker to alert drivers that this area is a pedestrian zone. The drawing below (and attached, in a larger format) illustrates design recommendations that will facilitate safe pedestrian crossing, and alert drivers to their presence.
As you can see from the drawing, our recommendations do not eschew boundaries, but instead use more context-sensitive forms to guide pedestrians and drivers. Boundaries include:
Brick piers and street wall to differentiate the barrier between the large shopping center parking lot and the pedestrian realm of sidewalks.
Continuous hedges between larger street trees, lined with a bollards and chain fence to carry more visual weight and establish a separation between the street and sidewalk.
Beyond these distinctions between the street and the sidewalk, the recommendation that we believe will have the most impact is to create an environment that welcomes pedestrians and establishes their space. Giving pedestrians several safe and comfortable points of crossing the road will decrease rogue road crossings. Furthermore, establishing pedestrian infrastructure will signal to drivers that they are entering into a downtown zone, causing them to slow their speed and keep alert for people walking across the street.
Pedestrian infrastructure recommendations at Knox and Hartwick Road include:
Tighter curb radii decrease crossing distance.
Signalized intersections restrict car and pedestrian travel to established times.
Wide-striped crosswalks provide visual instruction for both drivers and pedestrians.
Extended median islands create a refuge for pedestrians crossing the street.
Textured brick-type intersection pavers in the intersection provide a tactile reminder that drivers are entering a pedestrian-friendly zone
Furthermore, a signalized mid-block crossing will provide another option for pedestrians to cross the street legally.
At the crux of our recommendation is the creation of a traditional downtown pedestrian zone. Design cues such as distinct paving and strategically placed hedges do much more than beautify a space; they are powerful intercessions to inform both pedestrians and drivers how they should move through the environment. Other proposed solutions, such as installing a fence, changing the posted speed limit, and adding speed cameras will not achieve the same results.
Below is a list of charter principles that address the issues in this corridor, as well as a larger graphic of our proposed recommendations.
In light of our suggestions, we urge you to re-consider plans to install a fence, and instead consider a more comprehensive design-based approach. Design solutions not only increase safety and beauty; they also lead to increased economic development by encouraging more foot traffic. An investment to establish a traditional downtown environment in College Park will return benefits for years to come. The quick fix of a fence cannot accomplish the multi-faceted improvement of a design-based solution. We would very much appreciate the opportunity to speak with you further concerning this issue.
Stephanie Bothwell, ASLA
Board Chair and President,
The Congress for the New Urbanism,
Washington, DC Chapter
Designate a Downtown Pedestrian District that encompasses US 1 from Guilford Road to College Avenue.
Design a connection for the future Purple Line station at US 1 and Rossborough Drive.
Work with Maryland’s State Highway Administration to change US 1’s designation to an urban thoroughfare.
Street Design Recommendations:
Streets in the downtown pedestrian area should be a different color pavement.
Build tighter curb radii in the downtown area. Paint can be used as a short term solution.
Crosswalks should be light and reflective. The material should contrast with the street color.
Crosswalks should be wider and raised.
Create pedestrian refuges at intersections. Existing median nose should extend past crosswalk for these.
Stop bar should be behind the crosswalks
Add a mid-block crossing that engages the parking lot at College Park Shopping Center.
Hartwick Avenue should be a full signalized intersection.
Provide continuous planter beds on the east side of US 1 with structural soil. Change the tree type to further identify the downtown pedestrian area.
Build alternative fencing at sidewalk such as planters or pillars to identify crossing locations.
Build planters that give way for vehicular crash safety.
Pedestrian District Recommendations:
Pedestrian crossing signs should be shorter for better visibility for drivers.
Add additional signage indicating a downtown district.
Make all signage a single family type for design continuity. This alerts drivers they are entering a district.
Make pedestrian lighting and buttons consistent and easy to identify.
Prioritize the pedestrian walkways versus the curb cuts with methods such as raised crossings and pavement materials.
Allow on street parking at non-rush hour times.
Open brick wall on west side of US 1 for more transparency.
Encourage underground utilities.
Install speed cameras.
Build rumble strips prior to entering the downtown pedestrian district.
10) The neighborhood, the district, and the corridor are the essential elements of development and redevelopment in the metropolis. They form identifiable areas that encourage citizens to take responsibility for their maintenance and evolution.
12) Many activities of daily living should occur within walking distance, allowing independence to those who do not drive, especially the elderly and the young. Interconnected networks of streets should be designed to encourage walking, reduce the number and length of automobile trips, and conserve energy.
19) A primary task of all urban architecture and landscape design is the physical definition of streets and public spaces as places of shared use.
21) The revitalization of urban places depends on safety and security. The design of streets and buildings should reinforce safe environments, but not at the expense of accessibility and openness.
22) In the contemporary metropolis, development must adequately accommodate automobiles. It should do so in ways that respect the pedestrian and the form of public space.
23) Streets and squares should be safe, comfort- able, and interesting to the pedestrian. Properly configured, they encourage walking and enable neighbors to know each other and protect their communities.